Justice or Revenge?

“Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” — Francis Bacon

“Justice is revenge.” — Saad Hariri

“Revenge is simply justice with teeth.” — Simon Green

Nowadays, justice is a seriously sought-after ideal in a lot of places where dominant forces of oppression and tyranny operate and trample on people’s rights as human beings. In this sense, the issue of justice connects with that of human rights.

Being just is basically being fair. If justice reigns in a society, it is commonplace to see people doing things fairly with and for others. There’s no deception, manipulation, and exploitation. A society of this nature we call a just society.

A just society is a humanizing society. This is a situation where people experience the dignity of their humanity. Everybody has the opportunity to exercise her/his rights in such a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.

A just society is a moral society where what is good and what is right are measured in terms of how people respect each other. A respected human being feels that her/his life is worth living. And having such a mental frame under normal circumstances, a respected person develops in her/himself a sense of responsibility to likewise give the same respect to others. This is fundamental justice.

In light of the above descriptions, we can examine the kind of human societies we have in practically all parts of the world. Lamentably, we don’t have a single perfect model of a society where honest-to-goodness justice is prevalent. What we actually have are societies where people experience injustice in all forms and patterns, shades and textures at different levels of intensity and harshness. On planet Earth, we have manifold unjust societies. Through ages, injustice has always been a horrible root cause of serious problems, both personal and social.

In many instances, injustice is caused by people of immense power. They look at others who are, of course, not as powerful as they are, like insignificant entities that may be exploited and manipulated, controlled and dominated. In an unjust social condition, the justice system is muffled. In other words, we don’t expect justice served in a situation where the justice system is faulty and at worst, where there is no rationally functional justice system.

There are however cases where the justice system is simply a semblance of the real. In other words, we cannot really expect true justice from such a system because the people behind it are the very agents themselves of injustice at its most distorted form who have caused irreparable damages to society. In fact, many people who have experienced injustice in such a society have resigned themselves in the corner of hopelessness believing that they will never avail of the justice they seek, for such justice is nowhere found.

In certain societies, their very own governments could be the purveyors themselves of the worst kind of injustice. People experience tremendous difficulties in life because of unjust policies and practices that their government imposes on them. In this particular situation, the government becomes the people’s enemy. And in many occasions, corrupt and unscrupulous government officials who are closely associated with their equally corrupt and exploitative counterparts in the business realm intensify the degree of injustice experienced by the people in general and the poor sector of the population in particular.

In such circumstances, we see ordinary people being robbed of their dignity, and at worst, even murdered when they have crossed paths with the powers that be. How and where do their families seek justice afterward while their voices are muted by further threats of aggressive violence and outrageous brutality? When the dominant system itself precludes the call for justice, where do we go to redress the wrong that has been done to us? Can we not resort to putting justice in our hands when there’s no legal agency to turn to? Having this in mind, isn’t it logical to construe justice with revenge?

We do not want to mangle justice; its superior worth remains to be our incontrovertible ideal. We will always promote the virtue of justice as one of the most important–if not the most important–of the human values in us. However, there could be a distortion of its very essence if we necessarily bind it with the concept of legality. Of course, it is one more ideal point to realize such an association but the risk is when legality itself gets distorted and unabashedly identified with the powers that be. What then becomes legal is anything that favors the interests of the powerful and if justice is defined in such a context, it is absolutely stripped off of its moral essence.

Justice devoid of its morality is the corruption of justice. Justice corrupted is justice falsified. When such a tragic transformation happens, an individual who puts justice in his hands is simply fulfilling an act of reclaiming its moral essence. In this connection, revenge becomes a just act–an act of justice. In the final analysis, we arrive at the synthesis of justice as revenge and revenge as justice and who will have the guts to question it? Only those who have redefined justice according to their own demented conception that accommodates, gratifies, and satisfies their criminal interests.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 10 April 2019

The Need for Religion(s) in the Twenty-First Century

“Science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life.”

— Albert Einstein

“All real art is, in its true sense, religious; it is a religious impulse; there is no such thing as a non-religious subject. But much bad or downright sacrilegious art depicts so-called religious subjects.”

— Madeleine L’Engle

Is there really a need for religion(s) in the 21st century? If there is, why? Isn’t it that religions have always been with us since time immemorial and we take their existence as something normal? Without getting into a hasty generalization, isn’t it that every individual person who has a religion was actually born into it (of course, except those converts in their adult life)? In this sense, we should not be talking about the need for religion(s). Religion seems to be a spontaneous event as if it just comes naturally, i.e., without any resistance at all on the part of someone entering into it. The initiation is so unconstrained that it is even construed as a celebration.

Or having this kind of notion is just a rehearsal of a classic understanding of what religion is. In that case, such classic treatment is nothing but a romanticizing of its past glory that no longer makes sense from the perspective of modern humanity. In this connection, we could assume that there has been a rocky path in our journey through historic time where religion has encountered strong resistance like a sailboat struggling to keep afloat amidst the onslaught of giant waves in a stormy sea. Perhaps religion has been under attack from adversaries who have been sick and tired of its lofty promises that don’t match up with paramount reality. Perhaps religion has already reached its limits that it can no longer cope with the tall order of science. In other words, religion has already failed–and failed miserably–to satisfy certain inquiries emanating from the inquisitive mind of the modern person.

But despite all this condition, there are still those who tightly cling to their religion and are still able to make sense of and get fascinated by their unified experience of the “mysterium tremendum” or “awe-inspiring mystery”. They have absolutely determined once and for all that they are never in a position to question such an experience much less the fact that they feel well and comfortable, safe and secure within the confines of such a perfect state. That is their “windowless” (with apologies to Leibniz) reality impregnable by the assault, torrent, and bombardment of common sense, logic, and modern science. For them, the issue of religion as a need is pure nonsense. They have resolved decisively and conclusively that religion is the cozy cradle that has lulled their senses to unmitigated joy and tranquility.

In a world beset with all types of problems big and small, simple and complex, despite the progress generated by science and technology by leaps and bounds, there are moments when we find ourselves alone even amidst a crowd gathered around us that doesn’t know, much less care, about our sufferings. We are in the company of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends but we are all alone in the unspoken pains that continue to linger in our hearts. And we look for inspiration and insight to brighten, freshen and uplift the spirit in us. In the words of the German philosophical theologian, Paul Tillich, we are set to discover the existential significance of an “ultimate reality” to make our lives worth living. This is the factor that connects and identifies with the religious impulse or the impulse of the spirit in us.

Under normal circumstances, this urge is present in every human endeavor to make one’s life liveable. It doesn’t have to be called “religious” or something associated with the common understanding of religion. But the seminal principle of practically all established religions in the world emanated from this impulse. It could even be understood as the one single integrant of human existence that spontaneously gathers individual persons together to satisfy the inherent longing to belong and be associated with each other in achieving common goals from day to day as we share the same horizon not only in the here and now but more significantly in the future.

Along this line of thought, this impulse of the spirit, if you will, has perennially been present in every age and generation. And as we connect it with the basic notion of religion that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with our concept of organized and institutionalized religion as we know them all around the neighborhood, it is the factor that also seeks and desires for a gathering in a community of likeminded individuals. The issue of belief and faith is out of the question at the earliest point of encounter. What really matters most importantly is the community itself–something that is lacking in a typical modern western society of thousands of beaten paths reflective of the separate ways people take as they pursue their individualistic, even egotistical, way of life.

In conclusion, we can say with a modicum of reasonable certainty that the need for religion(s) is commonplace in all ages and thus in the 21st century. Religion in all forms and shapes, colors and hues is here to stay. It may assume a new configuration, both internal and external, but it will always be around as a fitting manifestation of an impulse inherent in humanity whether it is theistic or atheistic, pantheistic or panentheistic. What truly matters is the instinctive inclination and urge of normal likeminded people to gather together in a sharing community. In the final analysis, believing in a supreme being or not is not the key point; it is the feeling of belongingness. And this we have witnessed in the invention of new religions and the reinvention of traditional ones as well.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 2 April 2019